Shah Nameh/Súsen the Sorceress, and Afrásiyáb


Soon after Afrásiyáb had returned defeated into Túrán, grievously lamenting the misfortune which had deprived him of the assistance of Barzú, a woman named Súsen, deeply versed in magic and sorcery, came to him, and promised by her potent art to put him in the way of destroying Rustem and his whole family.

  "Fighting disappointment brings,
  Sword and mace are useless things;
  If thou wouldst a conqueror be,
  Monarch! put thy trust in me;
  Soon the mighty chief shall bleed--
  Spells and charms will do the deed!"

Afrásiyáb at first refused to avail himself of her power, but was presently induced, by a manifestation of her skill, to consent to what she proposed. She required that a distinguished warrior should be sent along with her, furnished with abundance of treasure, honorary tokens and presents, so that none might be aware that she was employed on the occasion. Afrásiyáb appointed Pílsam, duly supplied with the requisites, and the warrior and the sorceress set off on their journey, people being stationed conveniently on the road to hasten the first tidings of their success to the king. Their course was towards Sístán, and arriving at a fort, they took possession of a commodious residence, in which they placed the wealth and property they had brought, and, establishing a house of entertainment, all travellers who passed that way were hospitably and sumptuously regaled by them.

  For sparkling wine, and viands rare,
  And mellow fruit, abounded there.

It is recorded that Rustem had invited to a magnificent feast at his palace in Sístán a large company of the most celebrated heroes of the kingdom, and amongst them happened to be Tús, whom the king had deputed to the champion on some important state affairs. Gúdarz was also present; and between him and Tús ever hostile to each other, a dispute as usual took place. The latter, always boasting of his ancestry, reviled the old warrior and said, "I am the son of Nauder, and the grandson of Feridún, whilst thou art but the son of Kavah, the blacksmith;--why then dost thou put thyself on a footing with me?" Gúdarz, in reply, poured upon him reproaches equally irritating, accused him of ignorance and folly, and roused the anger of the prince to such a degree that he drew his dagger to punish the offender, when Rehám started up and prevented the intended bloodshed. This interposition increased his rage, and in serious dudgeon he retired from the banquet, and set off on his return to Irán.

Rustem was not present at the time, but when he heard of the altercation and the result of it, he was very angry, saying that Gúdarz was a relation of the family, and Tús his guest, and therefore wrong had been done, since a guest ought always to be protected. "A guest," he said, "ought to be held as sacred as the king, and it is the custom of heroes to treat a guest with the most scrupulous respect and consideration--

  "For a guest is the king of the feast."

He then requested Gúdarz to go after Tús, and by fair words and proper excuses bring him back to his festive board. Accordingly Gúdarz departed. No sooner had he gone than Gíw rose up, and said, "Tús is little better than a madman, and my father of a hasty temper; I should therefore wish to follow, to prevent the possibility of further disagreement." To this Rustem consented. Byzun was now also anxious to go, and he too got permission. When all the three had departed, Rustem began to be apprehensive that something unpleasant would occur, and thought it prudent to send Ferámurz to preserve the peace. Zál then came forward, and thinking that Tús, the descendant of the Kais and his revered guest, might not be easily prevailed upon to return either by Gúdarz, Gíw, Byzun, or Ferámurz, resolved to go himself and soothe the temper which had been so injudiciously and rudely ruffled at the banquet.

When Tús, on his journey from Rustem's palace, approached the residence of Súsen the sorceress, he beheld numerous cooks and confectioners on every side, preparing all kinds of rich and rare dishes of food, and every species of sweetmeat; and enquiring to whom they belonged, he was told that the place was occupied by the wife of a merchant from Túrán, who was extremely wealthy, and who entertained in the most sumptuous manner every traveller who passed that way. Hungry, and curious to see what was going on, Tús dismounted, and leaving his horse with the attendants, entered the principal apartment, where he saw a fascinating female, and was transported with joy.--She was

  Tall as the graceful cypress, and as bright,
  As ever struck a lover's ravished sight;
  Why of her musky locks or ringlets tell?
  Each silky hair itself contained a spell.
  Why of her face so beautifully fair?
  Wondering he saw the moon's refulgence there.

As soon as his transports had subsided he sat down before her, and asked her who she was, and upon what adventure she was engaged; and she answered that she was a singing-girl, that a wealthy merchant some time ago had fallen in love with and married her, and soon afterwards died; that Afrásiyáb, the king, had since wished to take her into his harem, which alarmed her, and she had in consequence fled from his country; she was willing, however, she said, to become the handmaid of Kai-khosráu, he being a true king, and of a sweet and gentle temper.

  "A persecuted damsel I,
  Thus the detested tyrant fly,
  And hastening from impending woes,
  In happy Persia seek repose;
  For long as cherished life remains,
  Pleasure must smile where Khosráu reigns.
  Thence did I from my home depart,
  To please and bless a Persian heart."

The deception worked effectually on the mind of Tús, and he at once entered into the notion of escorting her to Kai-khosráu. But he was immediately supplied with charmed viands and goblets of rich wine, which he had not the power to resist, till his senses forsook him, and then Pílsam appeared, and, binding him with cords, conveyed him safely and secretly into the interior of the fort. In a short time Gúdarz arrived, and he too was received and treated in the same manner. Then Gíw and Byzun were seized and secured; and after them came Zál: but notwithstanding the enticements that were used, and the attractions that presented themselves, he would neither enter the enchanted apartment, nor taste the enchanted food or wine.

  The bewitching cup was filled to the brim,
  But the magic draught had no charms for him.

A person whispered in his ear that the woman had already wickedly got into her power several warriors, and he felt assured that they were his own friends. To be revenged for this treachery he rushed forward, and would have seized hold of the sorceress, but she fled into the fort and fastened the gate. He instantly sent a messenger to Rustem, explaining the perplexity in which he was involved, and exerting all his strength, broke down the gate that had just been closed against him as soon as the passage was opened, out rushed Pílsam, who with his mace commenced a furious battle with Zál, in which he nearly overpowered him, when Ferámurz reached the spot, and telling the venerable old warrior to stand aside, took his place, and fought with Pílsam without intermission all day, and till they were parted by the darkness of night.

Early in the morning Rustem, accompanied by Barzú, arrived from Sístán, and entering the fort, called aloud for Pílsam. He also sent Ferámurz to Kai-khosráu to inform him of what had occurred. Pílsam at length issued forth, and attacked the champion. They first fought with bows and arrows, with javelins next, and then successively with maces, and swords, and daggers. The contest lasted the whole day; and when at night they parted, neither had gained the victory. The next morning immense clouds of dust were seen, and they were found to be occasioned by Afrásiyáb and his army marching to the spot. Rustem appointed Barzú to proceed with his Zábul troops against him, whilst he himself encountered Pílsam. The strife between the two was dreadful. Rustem struck him several times furiously upon the head, and at length stretched him lifeless on the sand. He then impelled Rakush towards the Túránian army, and aided by Zál and Barzú, committed tremendous havoc among them.

  So thick the arrows fell, helmet, and mail,
  And shield, pierced through, looked like a field of reeds.

In the meantime Súsen, the sorceress, escaped from the fort, and fled to Afrásiyáb.

Another cloud of dust spreading from earth to heaven, was observed in the direction of Persia, and the waving banners becoming more distinct, presently showed the approach of the king, Kai-khosráu.

  The steely javelins sparkled in the sun,
  Helmet and shield, and joyous seemed the sight.
  Banners, all gorgeous, floating on the breeze,
  And horns shrill echoing, and the tramp of steeds,
  Proclaimed to dazzled eye and half-stunned ear,
  The mighty preparation.

The hostile armies soon met, and there was a sanguinary conflict, but the Túránians were obliged to give way. Upon this common result, Pírán-wísah declared to Afrásiyáb that perseverance was as ridiculous as unprofitable. "Our army has no heart, nor confidence, when opposed to Rustem; how often have we been defeated by him--how often have we been scattered like sheep before that lion in battle! We have just lost the aid of Barzú, and now is it not deplorable to put any trust in the dreams of a singing-girl, to accelerate on her account the ruin of the country, and to hazard thy own personal safety.

  "What! risk an empire on a woman's word!"

Afrásiyáb replied, "So it is;" and instantly urged his horse into the middle of the plain, where he loudly challenged Kai-khosráu to single combat, saying, "Why should we uselessly shed the blood of our warriors and people. Let us ourselves decide the day. God will give the triumph to him who merits it." Kai-khosráu was ashamed to refuse this challenge, and descending from his elephant, mounted his horse and prepared for the onset. But his warriors seized the bridle, and would not allow him to fight. He declared, however, that he would himself take revenge for the blood of Saiáwush, and struggled to overcome the friends who were opposing his progress. "Forbear awhile," said Rustem, "Afrásiyáb is expert in all the arts of the warrior, fighting with the sword, the dagger, in archery, and wrestling. When I wrestled with him, and held him down, he could not have escaped, excepting by the exercise of the most consummate dexterity. Allow thy warriors to fight for thee." But the king was angry, and said, "The monarch who does not fight for himself, is unworthy of the crown." Upon hearing this, Rustem wept tears of blood. Barzú now took hold of the king's stirrup, and knocked his forehead against it, and drawing his dagger, threatened to put an end to himself, saying, "My blood will be upon thy neck, if thou goest;" and he continued in a strain so eloquent and persuasive that Khosráu relaxed in his determination, and observed to Rustem: "There can be no doubt that Barzú is descended from thee." Barzú now respectfully kissed the ground before the king, and vaulting on his saddle with admirable agility, rushed onwards to the middle space where Afrásiyáb was waiting, and roared aloud. Afrásiyáb burned with indignation at the sight, and said in his heart: "It seems that I have nurtured and instructed this ingrate, to shed my own blood. Thou wretch of demon-birth, thou knowest not thy father's name! and yet thou comest to wage war against me! Art thou not ashamed to look upon the king of Túrán after what he has done for thee?" Barzú replied: "Although thou didst protect me, thou spilt the blood of Saiáwush and Aghríras unjustly. When I ate thy salt, I served thee faithfully, and fought for thee. I now eat the salt of Kai-khosráu, and my allegiance is due to him."

  He spoke, and raised his battle-axe, and rushed,
  Swift as a demon of Mázinderán,
  Against Afrásiyáb, who, frowning, cried:--
  "Approach not like a furious elephant,
  Heedless what may befall thee--nor provoke
  The wrath of him whose certain aim is death."
  Then placed he on the string a pointed dart,
  And shot it from the bow; whizzing it flew,
  And pierced the armor of the wondering youth,
  Inflicting on his side a painful wound,
  Which made his heart with trepidation throb;
  High exultation marked the despot's brow,
  Seeing the gush of blood his loins distain.

Barzú was now anxious to assail Afrásiyáb with his mace, instead of arrows; but whenever he tried to get near enough, he was disappointed by the adroitness of his adversary, whom he could not reach. He was at last compelled to lay aside the battle-axe, and have recourse to his bow, but every arrow was dexterously received by Afrásiyáb on his shield; and Barzú, on his part, became equally active and successful. Afrásiyáb soon emptied his quiver, and then he grasped his mace with the intention of extinguishing his antagonist at once, but at the moment Húmán came up, and said: "O, king! do not bring thyself into jeopardy by contending against a person of no account; thy proper adversary is Kai-khosráu, and not him, for if thou gainest the victory, it can only be a victory over a fatherless soldier, and if thou art killed, the whole of Túrán will be at the feet of Persia." Both Pírán and Húmán dissuaded the king from continuing the engagement singly, and directed the Túránians to commence a general attack. Afrásiyáb told them that if Barzú was not slain, it would be a great misfortune to their country; in consequence, they surrounded him, and inflicted on him many severe wounds. But Rustem and Ferámurz, beholding the dilemma into which Barzú was thrown, hastened to his support, and many of the enemy were killed by them, and great carnage followed the advance of the Persian army.

  The noise of clashing swords, and ponderous maces
  Ringing upon the iron mail, seemed like
  The busy work-shop of an armorer;
  Tumultuous as the sea the field appeared,
  All crimsoned with the blood of heroes slain.

Kai-khosráu himself hurried to the assistance of Barzú, and the powerful force which he brought along with him soon put the Túránians to flight. Afrásiyáb too made his escape in the confusion that prevailed. The king wished to pursue the enemy, but Rustem observed that their defeat and dispersion was enough. The battle having ceased, and the army being in the neighborhood of Sístán, the champion solicited permission to return to his home; "for I am now," said he, "four hundred years old, and require a little rest. In the meantime Ferámurz and Barzú may take my place." The king consented, and distributing his favors to each of his distinguished warriors for their prodigious exertions, left Zál and Rustem to proceed to Sístán, and returned to the capital of his kingdom.